Remember the good old days when cinema taught us that the most horrifying repercussion of nuclear testing would be gigantic ants or bunnies?
The villains of Alexandre Aja's remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" offer a less warm-and-cuddly perspective on the dangers of radioactive fallout -- they're mutated cannibals with a sadistic streak the size of the New Mexico desert and they're about to meet the Carters, a quintessential nuclear (pun only semi-intended) family traveling to California in a cramped trailer. In no time, the Carters are stranded in the wilderness to become the unfortunate playthings for the monsters in the hills.
Produced on the cheap and dropped into theaters just three months ago, "The Hills Have Eyes" added to the mounting pile of evidence that there's a sizeable audience out there that'll lay down money for any movie that offers a dose of gratuitous violence. Aja, who earn his credentials on the foreign gore-fest "High Tension," leaves little to the imagination here, abusing his surprisingly strong cast -- including Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Aaron Stanford and Emilie de Ravin -- in ways that are creative at first, but eventually become loud and droning.
The makeup effects by Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger are perhaps too realistic, to the point that they drain much of the pleasure from watching "The Hills," which devolved into little more than a well-shot snuff film by the end. Aja's interest is so clearly limited to the film's visceral impact, that the dark social commentary of Wes Craven's original film is just drowned in a shower of fake blood and synthetic limbs.
Naturally, "The Hills Have Eyes" hits DVD this week in a different cut described as the "Unrated Version to Die For," not that I was able to tell the difference between the version that disturbed and then bored me in theaters and the new version, which had almost the same effect.
The orgy of burning flesh, creative mutations and severed anatomy is at the center of the making-of featurette titled "Surviving the Hills." With a running time of over 50 minutes, the doc covers just about every imaginable aspect of the film ranging from the decision to shoot in Morocco to film's well-behaved gun-loving baby. Naturally the character design for the different mutants is discussed in depth, including the interesting revelation that several of the freakish visages were created entirely on computers in post-production. "Surviving the Hills" is so complete that the addition of several brief video production diaries feels unnecessary.
The DVD also includes a pair of commentaries. Aja and Levassuer (joined by nearly silent producer Marianne Maddalena) provide excitable insight into many of their formal choices, repeating many of the points from the documentary. Much funnier and much less relevant is the track by producers Craven and Peter Locke, which Craven begins by announcing, "We don't have a clue what we're doing here." The horror legend, who had absolutely nothing to do with the day-to-day production of the film, mostly serves to prompt Locke (who was on-set) and to interject smartly sarcastic asides.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times